The tenth annual RAISE (Researching, Advancing & Inspiring Student Engagement) conference was hosted by Newcastle University, 4 – 5th September 2019. It opened with a lively debate between a founding figure in the field of Student Engagement, Colin Bryson (Director of Combined Honours Centre, Newcastle University), and, Bruce Macfarlane (Professor of Higher Education and Head of the School of Education, Bristol University). Whilst sympathetic to its aims of democratic involvement, co-creation and collaboration between staff and students across Higher Education, Macfarlane was critical of Student Engagement insofar as it, he argued, had become merely performative. Macfarlane convincingly argued that Student Engagement had, across the sector, come to be measured through: merely ‘showing up’, in effect, attending class; vague gestures such as hand-raising; and, inauthentic modes of assessment such as reflective diaries.
This debate set the tone for the rest of the conference, which included many lively parallel presentations, PechaKuchas and workshops, all of which focussed upon the conference themes of measuring the impact of student engagement and working in partnership with staff. A recurrent content theme at the conference was sessions focussing upon how students are best able to make sense of, and, act upon, tutor feedback. A number of innovative methods were shared, including students co-writing assessment criteria, formative peer assessment, and co-creation of feedback literacy toolkits.
The University of Leeds was well represented at the conference, with staff and students across faculties presenting innovative approaches to working in partnership. I myself presented a paper on using Turnitin QuickMarks technology to help students to access study skills specific to particular needs, as opposed to generic resources. My paper was well received, and led to fruitful conversations with students and staff at different institutions on how digital capabilities could be harnessed to improve feedback literacy, both in the way that tutors shared it, as well as how students actioned it.
A highlight of the conference was the blend of student and staff voices, with the former incredibly articulate in expressing complex ideas to a wide-ranging audience. Next year, the conference will be taking place at the University of Lincoln, a post-92 university with a culturally embedded focus upon ‘student as producer’ (Neary, 2010). I recommend both students and staff alike to consider attending and presenting on an aspect of their work that demonstrates the efficacy of collaborative partnerships, over and above what Macfarlane deems merely performative practice.